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Mai Po Wildlife Education Centre and Nature Reserve

Mai Po Wildlife Education Centre and Nature Reserve

Management and funding

Mai Po Nature Reserve lies in the northwestern corner of the New Territories of Hong Kong on land belonging to the Hong Kong SAR Government.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) controls access onto the site in order to minimise disturbance to the wildlife.  Management of the wetland habitats and running of specially guided visits by school and public groups are carried out by WWF Hong Kong

WWF raises about 60% of the funds needed to operate the Reserve through visitor income and special fundraising events (e.g. annual Big Bird Race), whilst the Hong Kong Government provides the remaining 40% through various annual subventions and support of habitat management projects.

Some 40,000 people visit Mai Po each year, with a quarter of those being primary and secondary school students on visits guided by WWF Education Officers during weekdays

The remaining visitors come at other times on visits guided by part-time interpreters


The Mai Po Marshes has been well known as a site for migratory waterbirds, especially in winter, since as far back as the late 1800s when tours were organised from Hong Kong island for visitors.

In 1975, the HK Government designated Mai Po as a restricted access area after lobbying by local conservationists who protested against the government’s decision to approve a large-scale housing development adjacent to the site.

This status aimed to control the number of visitors entering the site and thus minimise disturbance. Access was only allowed for people who had special Mai Po Entry Permits issued by AFCD, who also set up warden posts at the main entry points into the site in order to enforce the access restrictions.

AFCD also administer the legal aspects of the site. In 1976, Mai Po was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Despite these protection measures, the land within Mai Po was still being managed for commercial shrimp farming rather than for conservation and education.  When WWF-HK was formed in 1981, they decided to develop Mai Po as a wildlife education centre and nature reserve.

By 1983, WWF had raised sufficient money to take over their first set of gei wai for conservation and education and by 1995, was able to take over management of all the remaining shrimp ponds. WWF has since built a Wildlife Education Centre, Field Studies Centre, a series of birdwatching hides, boardwalks and other visitor facilities in the Reserve. Funds for these works came from private companies, individuals, the HK Jockey Club and the HK SAR Government.


Mai Po Nature Reserve consists of 24 intertidal shrimp ponds locally called ‘ gei wai‘ that were created in the early 1940s by impounding the coastal mangroves. Each of these ponds is approx. 10 ha in size and were traditionally managed. In the 1970s, however, a small number of ponds were subdivided into deep water ponds for fish farming, especially in the southern end of the Reserve. The gei wai support dwarf mangrove forests and reedbeds, whilst the deep water ponds are essentially open areas of water.

When WWF took over these ponds for conservation management and education purposes, some of the gei wai were converted to wildlife habitats. This included removing some of the bunds to enlarge selected ponds to act as shallow water high-tide waterbird roosts.  In the late 1990s, some of the deep water ponds were converted to rain-fed freshwater ponds which attract roosting waterfowl in winter, and odonates in summer.

Apart from the Wildlife Education Centre and Field Studies Centre, other attractions for visitors include a 600m long floating boardwalk that winds through the intertidal mangroves to the edge of Deep Bay. Here, a number of floating birdwatching hides allow views over the mudflat and waterbirds that may be present.  There is also a 400m fixed boardwalk close to the Education Centre that takes visitors through a mangrove forest, reedbed and a rain-fed freshwater marsh.

The 1.5 km route from the car park to the Education Centre is fully accessible for visitors in wheelchairs.

Key species/features

The Mai Po Nature Reserve is part of the Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site that now supports some 54,000 wintering waterbirds, plus another 20,000-30,000 shorebirds on spring and autumn passage.

Of the birds, some 27 species are considered threatened with some 20% of the world’s wintering population of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill found in these wetlands.

The mangroves are the sixth largest area of such habitat protected in China and the reedbeds are probably the largest remaining in Guangdong Province, southern China.

The gei wai are of cultural value and are one of the few remaining shrimp ponds that are still functional.

Interpretation and exhibitry

The basic philosophy behind the interpretation material is that it should be produced in a simple. attractive manner that can be easily understood by the majority of visitors to the reserve.

In the Education Centre, all the exhibition materials are relatively inexpensive, involving a hands-on, interactive approach, be tough and easily repaired. The exhibits also use bright colours to attract younger visitors.

Formal (school and university) learning

The HK Government’s Education and Manpower Bureau subvents 400 groups of primary and secondary students to visit Mai Po annually.

Prior to the start of the school term, WWF sends out a circular to all the schools in HK inviting applications from the schools to send student groups on the specially guided programmes. These places are usually taken up very quickly.

Schools can select from a variety of topics for the groups to follow, with each of the topics being tailored to the local curriculum, such as Science Education, Moral and Civic Education.

School partnership and teacher capacity training programmes are offered for HK’s formal school sector to enrich both in-service and pre-service teacher knowledge and skills in the implementation of wetland education.

A variety of wetland themed educational packs and materials have been developed for educators’ reference.

Special programmes have been developed for special needs groups, such as those with mild mental disabilities.

Informal (general public) learning

A variety of leaflets, booklets and guides have been produced and a series of signs and noticeboards have been placed at strategic locations used by visitors.  A range of public visit programmes are conducted each weekend to cater for people with different interests (e.g. from general visits to more specialised photographic workshops) and abilities (e.g. for those who require wheelchair access).

These programmes change with the seasons in order to highlight the main features of the reserve at that time of year. These public visit programmes are guided by specially trained volunteers. WWF HK is a membership based organisation that at the time of writing (Dec 2006) has a total membership of over 16,000 people.


Since 1991, WWF has organised a Wetland Management Training Programme based at Mai Po Nature Reserve which lately has been funded by HSBC. Each year, some 15 courses and a smaller number of study tours are organised under the programme with participants coming from throughout Asia but mainly from mainland China.


WWF has around 25 staff permanently based at Mai Po, led by a Centre Manager. Nearly half of these are involved with improvement and maintenance of the wetland habitats and infrastructure for visitors, whilst the remaining are responsible for the monitoring and research work, running the wetland training programme, and management of the public visit programme.

The Centre Manager reports to the Head Office of WWF-HK that is based on HK Island.  CEPA activities are conducted by a separate team of Education Officers who are based off-site but visit the Reserve on a regular basis to guide school tours.


Mr Matthew Cheng, Mai Po Centre Manager

Address: WWF Mai Po Nature Reserve, Peter Scott Field Studies Centre, San Tin, Yuen Long, New Terrotories, Hong Kong, China
T: 00 852 2482 0369  F: 00 852 2471 8272  E:

To see a virtual visit of Mai Po, please click here!

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To see short video footage from Mai Po and our other WLI centres, please click here!


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